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April 21, 2004

Task force report recommends eight key areas for U-M to monitor for environmental sustainability

ANN ARBOR, Mich.—A University of Michigan task force has recommended to President Mary Sue Coleman that the University monitor eight key areas to improve its environmental performance. The task force report was released today (April 21).
The Environmental Task Force, formed in 2003 by Coleman to develop a plan for the U-M to create a more sustainable future, worked for a year on the report. It identifies key environmental performance areas to monitor and improve, and recommends reporting the University's progress on an annual basis.

Dean Rosina Bierbaum, School of Natural Resources and Environment, and Dean Douglas Kelbaugh, Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning, served as task force chairs. Task force members came from a wide range of disciplines and schools, including Plant Operations, Purchasing, Occupational Safety and Environmental Health, Engineering, Parking and Transportation, and U-M Flint. The Center for Sustainable Systems provided extensive analytic support in the development of the indicators matrix. The group built upon earlier work done by a group of master's degree students in the School of Natural Resources and Environment.

"This is truly a grass roots effort emanating from a School of Natural Resources and Environment student master's project on U-M sustainability in 2001," Bierbaum said. "The students presented their work to the then new U-M president, Mary Sue Coleman, who, in turn, challenged our task force to develop the prototype released today. While many other universities have begun reporting on issues like greenhouse gases and energy use, the comprehensiveness of the metrics proposed here, along with the annual initiatives to improve problem areas, if adopted, could catapult the University of Michigan to the forefront of accountability and sustainability."

"Tracking these measures will reveal our habits of water use, transportation, recycling, and energy consumption, and its impact on air quality," Kelbaugh said. "If we continue to improve our habits and stay faithful to the plan, we will keep U-M in the ecological forefront."

The Environmental Task Force first selected a set of general categories to best capture the environmental footprint of the U-M campus. The categories were chosen for their significance of impact, campus-wide applicability and availability of data. They include energy use in buildings and transportation, water use, land use, emissions (air and water), material use and solid waste, and cross-cutting and emerging issues.

Next, they identified specific indicators to best measure the progress of U-M with respect to its environmental performance in those six categories. Indicators are: primary energy consumption, meaning the energy used to power the campus; renewable energy contribution, such as using wind, biofuels, solar thermal and photovoltaic technologies; water use; impervious surface area, and any increases in comparison to total surface area; greenhouse gas emissions; solid waste generated by the University such as paper and food scraps; percent of solid waste recycled; and building utilization. (A less area-intensive building footprint per capita generally reflects greater efficiency in construction and operation.)

The task force stressed that the U-M should use the report not to only to measure its performance, but also to improve environmental stewardship, refining indicators if necessary. It also noted that environmental stewardship assessment can contribute to the identification of cost savings as well as to the reduction of environmental risks.

In the long term, the report suggested that U-M should establish a multidisciplinary assessment and reporting advisory committee, and eventually incorporate social, economic, cultural and aesthetic indicators that are just as important but harder to quantify. It also suggested that the U-M highlight the business case for environmental stewardship, and utilize the Global Reporting Initiative framework, which is becoming the standard for sustainability and reporting guidelines.

Finally, the report said, environmental stewardship goals could ultimately be integrated with academic courses and faculty and student research projects.

"I am extremely grateful to deans Bierbaum and Kelbaugh, as well as to the entire task force and the many technical consultants who contributed their expertise to the task force's work," said President Mary Sue Coleman. "It is especially appropriate that this model for measuring and improving the University's stewardship of the environment be presented in connection with the celebration of Earth Day, given the University's longstanding commitment to environmentally friendly practices. I look forward to studying the report and considering ways to implement its recommendations."

The University has a long history of leadership and innovation on environmental issues within its facilities and operations. Recently, U-M has received several prestigious awards, including the 2004 Environmental Protection Agency and Department of Energy Award for "Best Workplace for Commuters" and the 2003 EPA Energy Star Combined Heat and Power Award. In 2001, U-M was recognized as the National Recycling Coalition's Outstanding School Program. 

A complete copy of the report can be found on the web at

Contact: Laura Bailey
Phone: (734) 647-7087 or (734) 647-1848